M CHALLENGE: Dirty dancing; Bored with Pilates? Can't be bothered with Salsa-cise? Well, there's a new exercise class on the way that will give you bags of confidence and a fit body... and your fella the shock of his life. JILL FOSTER tries her hand at The Art Of Exotic Dancing to find out if she can cut it as a sex goddess.
In the deserted studio of a plush gym in the centre of London, I'm making come to bed eyes at the attractive brunette standing a few feet in front of me.
Slowly, she glides towards me, tracing delicate lines with her finger over her throat, breasts and hips until she's within inches of my face.
In the corner, a discreet cameraman films us while Marvin Gaye croons Let's Get It On in the background.
No, this isn't the making of Tatu: The Sequel. This is The Art Of Exotic Dancing (AOED), a class that's turned on the US in a big way.
The lady giving me the come-on is Leah Stauffer, a 35-year-old businesswoman from Philadelphia whose classes in the US are oversubscribed by women desperate to learn how to dance seductively.
And the celebs are queuing up for a chance to learn moves such as the stationary hip roll, the grasshopper and the step-drag-walk, too.
Kate Moss, Jennifer Aniston and Renee Zellweger have perfected the AOED to keep their bodies toned and men in check - with varying degrees of success.
And now Leah is bringing her classes across the pond to Britain.
The cameraman is Leah's business partner Tim Kelly, 38. He doesn't usually film classes - which he admits is a crying shame - but he's here today to record Leah's training video.
The eye-contact exercise we've just completed is an essential part of the AOED workout because, according to Leah, it's the most challenging part of exotic dancing.
As she explains: "You can learn all the core dance moves but unless you have eye contact, it won't work.
"A lady once told me she did a dance for her husband but never looked at him and wondered why it didn't turn him on. It's all in the eyes."
Dyadic eye contact means sending and receiving your energy with another person through your eyes alone. Ideally, it should be with someone for whom you are performing a dance but we practise by taking it in turns to send the word "hello" to each other using eye contact alone.
Unfortunately, when most people look into my eyes they say "go to bed" rather than "come to bed" and I'm not used to maintaining anyone's gaze for this long - let alone someone I've only just met.
It's slightly uncomfortable but Leah says I'm a natural and, apparently, I move on to the "sensual" stage of sending alluring messages without even trying. Blimey.
Leah is constant with her praise and thankfully she isn't Barbie Doll slim, which put me and my size 14 hips at ease straight away.
Her classes started in Philadelphia in 1998. A reporter from a local newspaper took a class and wrote an article with the headline Exercising Your Sex Appeal and the phenomenon took off.
"We received phone calls from women all over the country," says Leah, who's divorced.
"I knew we were on to something big. We trained more teachers and brought out a video which went straight to number one. Now thousands of women have transformed how they feel about their bodies.
"Women see images in magazines which they feel they have to live up to, but these classes increase their confidence and celebrate their beauty inside and out."
Each session lasts for three hours and costs around pounds 50. And it's strictly women-only - although Tim tells me of a couple of amusing occasions where cross-dressers tried to blag their way in.
Sessions usually begin with what's termed a "magic circle". At the circle, students give their reasons for attending the class and what they hope to get out of it.
"It helps to create a safe space where they won't be judged by the others and won't be competing against each other," Leah explains.
"Women join for many reasons. They might want to spice up their marriage, they may feel they're losing their identity or they may just want to feel more confident about their bodies.
"Some of our ladies come from strict religious backgrounds and have never allowed themselves to feel sexy or sensual.
"And 10 per cent of our clients are breast cancer survivors. They tell me that chemotherapy or a mastectomy often makes them feel robbed of their femininity so this is their way of reclaiming it.
"I've been moved to tears by some of the stories about why women are joining and what transformations they've made."
My reason for going to Leah's class, however, is far more shallow. Any workout which let's you keep your make-up on and encourages you to wear high heels will always get my vote. And when Leah informs me that the first exercise is walking, I'm already making a mental note to cancel my gym membership.
But in reality the step-drag-walk exercise isn't as easy as it sounds.
Leah sashays effortlessly across the floor with each step looking like a major-league come-on, but when I first attempt it, the look is more Bugs Bunny than Jessica Rabbit.
Luckily, Leah is so positive with her encouragement that I begin to loosen up. She hands me a feather boa and before you know it I'm doing poses that would make Peter Stringfellow blush.
"I love what you do with your hands when you place them on your hips, you should stick to that look, it suits you." she says. "You should definitely use your hair a lot - toss it up in the air and play with it with your hands. Move your hands all over your body, do whatever feels natural."
Next up is the hip roll. Leah shows me moves which, from behind, must look disgusting - and not in a good way.
There are four variations to perfect - the stationary, revolving, revolving with daisy petals and the squatting - but all involve moving your pelvis in a circular motion.
It's more difficult than it looks and is excellent exercise for toning the thigh and bottom muscles.
Then it's on to the floor - my favourite part of any workout. But the manoeuvre to get to the floor is something that would give Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct problems.
To the strains of Leave Your Hat On by Tom Jones, I strut towards the mirror, turn my back on it and slide down it quickly until I'm kneeling on the floor.
Then I lean back, toss my head back and sway. I can feel the muscles in my thighs straining but realise what a great toning exercise it is. It beats the StairMaster any day.
On the floor we roll over on to our backs, put our feet in the air and rub our heels down each opposite calf - it's known as the grasshopper and will certainly be a move I'll try next time a barman fails to notice me. Leah then shows me how to perform a sexy striptease. Wearing an over-sized man's shirt with the bottom button fastened she sways her hips before letting one of the sleeves casually fall over her shoulder.
The second sleeve soon follows and she continues to pose in the mirror while moving the buttoned front slowly round her back.
She bites tightly on to the shirt collar before reaching round behind her to undo the button. It's a sleight-of-hand which would put David Blaine to shame and, as the button is undone, the shirt falls sexily to the floor.
When Leah does it, it looks graceful. When I try it, I get in the kind of tangle normally associated with changing your duvet cover.
But one or two attempts later - plus a fair bit of cheating - it's off and I'm feeling great.
Then we sit down for the final magic circle to discuss how we're feeling.
When I knew I'd be doing this class I was afraid I'd look clumsy. I'm not particularly body conscious but there are parts of me - roughly from the forehead down - which I feel could be improved.
But after the workout I'm feeling surprisingly confident about my body - wobbles and all.
My legs ache slightly from the hip rolls and I've got a warm glow to my cheeks that could be the exercise or the fact I've been blushing so much.
But it was great fun and it's no wonder British women are already signing up for the classes when they begin in May. It's certainly more enjoyable than yoga or pilates.
On the Tube home, I catch myself humming Liberty X's "Sexyyyy, everything about you's so sexyyyy" - I realise then that something's has obviously clicked.
I just wonder what my fella has to say about it when I get home.
Get further info
- www.artoferotic dancing.com
- Wild Workouts by Leah Stauffer (pounds 14.99 Carlton Books) is out on March 27, 2003
The squatting hip roll - not something you want to try down the local nightclub
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|Title Annotation:||M on Tuesday|
|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2003|
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